Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blue Ridge Relay Recap Part 2- The battle commences

Richard and Trent get matters underway

Richard was getting ready to start off our journey. Quiet and unassuming but confident and in great form, Richard had joined the team after Jordan’s late withdrawal and was looking forward to stamping his mark on his first BRR. Ben had had a few quiet words with him, he was good to go and an ideal starter for the team. The first stage was literally all downhill for 4 miles. Many a competitor’s race at BRR has been scuppered by running too hard on this leg over the years. A solid, efficient effort was called for and achieved by both teams as they came in less than 20 minutes later separated by just a few seconds, Richard in the lead.

Over to John now. The Mixed Team’s star performer the year before, even more was expected off of him this year with the prior knowledge he had gained of his legs and the form he had shown all year to date. And he didn’t disappoint. The Asheville runner briefly caught up to John at the start of the leg but by the middle of the leg John was rolling and had pulled about a two minute lead out by the time he handed over to the captain. This wasn’t unexpected but it was good to know that our ‘star man’ was on form, we needed everyone to perform to their maximum if we were going to have any chance at all of winning the race.

John rolling on Leg 2- that gap soon became 2 minutes

Worth explaining at this point how the vans worked. Once a runner had completed his leg the ‘on’ van (in this case van 1) would drive straight ahead to the next exchange zone so that the next runner up could get a brief warm up in before his leg. The other van, whose occupants wouldn’t be running until later, would pick up the runner who had just finished and support the guy who had just started his leg. As we passed our runner we would give him plenty of encouragement and then find a suitable place along the route to stop and get out so we could watch and cheer from outside the van and also get a sense of what the distance was between him and the competition. It was during such a stop in the middle of leg 4 that the first real drama of the race unfolded. Ben was running solidly as we saw him pass. He didn’t look particularly happy with life but seemed to be in a good rhythm. Not unexpectedly, however, the Asheville guy Daniel was clearly gaining some time back. Then all of a sudden as we were just about to get back in the van Daniel pulled over to the side of the road to stretch his calf out. As we passed him he had gingerly started running again but things were not looking good for him.

I had mixed emotions at this point. The competitive side of me was happy as our rival was in trouble and we had a chance to really put the hammer down early in the race. On the other hand a wave of disappointment came over me as we had been looking forward to a hard race and didn’t want to win it early on because of someone getting hurt and having to pull out. As it was, Daniel recovered well to finish the leg and would go on to be able to complete the race. Unexpectedly though, our lead had increased slightly on leg 4. The definite early advantage had gone to CRC.

Ben and Billy negotiate an interesting handover

Over the next couple of hours it was pretty much status quo as Billy, Mike and Greg got their first legs out of the way. Greg was particularly impressive on his Blue Ridge debut putting some time into his opponent.

Greg enjoying his first BRR performance

Van 1 had done its job now it was Van 2’s turn to shine. First up in Van 2 was good old moi. Like John I had been given the same legs as last year (7, 19 and 31). I was happy with this as I knew I wouldn’t have any problems getting lost and could use last year’s experience to my advantage with regard to pacing and route management. There was no doubt that I was in better shape for last year’s race (deep into training for Richmond Marathon) but I was hoping my relative lack of fitness in the current year would be fully compensated by the advantage of having run here before.

Leg 7 is 2 miles downhill, 1 nasty mile of uphills, 1 more nice downhill with an absolute beast of a mile in mile 5 followed by a ‘sprint’ to the next exchange zone. You know when the course handbook describes a hill in this race as a ‘monster’ that it’s going to be bad and so it proved again for me. By the time I got to the top of the hill I had been cursing aloud and wishing I was somewhere else. However, I did manage to put an extra 40 seconds into Asheville on this leg and had run faster than last year. Pleasing.

The Captain gets going

I'm down there somewhere, cursing, loudly

Bob looked up for the fight as he put a little more time in the bank (we weren’t expecting anything else from definitely the fiercest competitor I have known since moving over here), Chris lost a little time to Asheville’s captain and then Aaron discovered he was up against one of their better runners as more time was taken away from our lead. Both had run great and in line with expectations but Asheville were definitely up for the battle and the strength of their second van was coming to light already. After 10 legs and with dusk approaching, less than 2 minutes separated the teams. With 4 of the fastest runners in the race set to run the next two legs the battle was well and truly on!

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